Phonetic awareness is the ability to recognize, differentiate and manipulate the individual sound units in spoken words. As if the term “sound units” wasn’t pretentious enough, early childhood educators and speech therapists often refer to individual sound units as “phonemes.” Phonemes are more than just syllables. The word “hat” has one syllable, but three phonemes: the /h/ sound, the /a/ sound and the /t/ sound.
Phonetic awareness starts with babies hearing and repeating consonant sounds like “bah bah” or “dah dah” and progresses to fluent speaking. Phonemic awareness skills are acquired over a span of several years and develop in sequence.
- Recognizing individual words in a sentence.
- Recognizing individual sounds in a word.
- Recognizing rhyming words.
- Identifying syllables (word parts).
- Recognizing or matching identical consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, matching the /b/ at the beginning of “balloon” and “bike.” This often happens by age four or five.
- Recognizing or matching identical consonant sounds at the end of words. For example, matching the /t/ at the end of “jacket” and “bat.” This skill is normally developed by age five or six.
- Recognizing or matching identical consonant sounds in the middle of words. For example, matching the hard /g/ in the middle of “wagon” and “digger.” This skill generally develops by age six or seven.
- Recognizing or matching identical vowel sounds in the middle of words. This includes matching the short /e/ in the middle of “bed” and “hem.” This skill normally develops by age six or seven.
When children begin preschool, they are expected to begin recognizing individual sounds in words, count words in a spoken sentence, and identify rhyming words. As a child progresses through preschool and kindergarten, he will be given focused opportunities to listen to spoken words and he will be encouraged to isolate and identify the sounds he is hearing. By the end of kindergarten, a child should be able to identify each discrete sound in spoken words, including sounds at the beginning, end, and middle of words. Kindergarten-aged children should also be able to match those sounds to the correct letter, begin writing through inventive spelling, and play word games such as rhyming and creating compound words.